Environmental Must-Reads – November 18, 2013


Word games are misleading the American public about fracking

Hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, and other drilling practices have unlocked previously inaccessible reserves of oil and gas across the United States and the world. However, some of the debate over fracking is distorting public understanding of these practices and interfering with good decision-making about this recent boom in unconventional oil and gas production.

Calif oil firm illegally discharged fracking fluid

An oil company will pay a $60,000 penalty for discharging fracking fluid into an unlined pit in Kern County.

Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board said in a statement Friday that Vintage Production California discharged saline water and hydraulic fracturing liquid into an unlined pit for 12 days last year. The pit was next to a newly drilled oil well near Shafter, about 20 miles northwest of Bakersfield.

Fracking Foes Fight One Battle at a Time in Colorado

The nation’s fight over fracking has an epicenter, and it’s in the Denver suburbs where you find both drilling and Democrats.

Driving north on Interstate 25 past Denver, you pass a string of communities in Colorado’s Front Range similar to this college town. In each place there’s wrangling over the oil and natural-gas production, which is booming with the help of fracking, a drilling technology that’s key to extracting unconventional fossil resources but controversial for its environmental risks.

Botswana faces questions over licences for fracking companies in Kalahari

Botswana has been accused of sacrificing the Kalahari, one of the world’s most precious wildlife reserves, to commercial fracking while ignoring the concerns of environmentalists and communities who could lose access to scarce water.

Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, for the production of gas is the subject of fierce debate in America, Britain, South Africa and countries around the world, with green activists warning that it degrades land and pollutes air and water.

New air quality rules for oil and gas industry will regulate methane

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday is set to announce a new set of rules regulating emissions from the state’s booming oil and gas industry in order to improve deteriorating air quality across the Front Range.

According to sources, the announcement is expected to include guidelines for the regulation of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gas-causing chemicals, a groundbreaking move that could set a new national precedent.

Mora County in New Mexico Faces Backlash After fracking Ban Passed in June Set to Go to Court

In June, Mora County, N.M., a rural county northwest of Santa Fe, made the hotly debated decision of declaring an outright ban on oil and gas fracking, the first to do so in the United States. The main motivation was a fear of exacerbating the already-dire water shortage plaguing ranchers.  But now the ban is the target of a lawsuit by the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico, filed in Albuquerque this week.

Is Fracking a Civil Right? A New Court Case May Decide

Horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing, drilling for oil, exploring for natural gas: None of that is allowed in Mora County, New Mexico.

On April 29, the Mora County Commission made history and passed a first-of-its-kind ordinance banning the exploration and extraction of oil, natural gas, and hydrocarbons from its land. The ordinance, called the “Mora County Community Water Rights Local Self-Government Ordinance,” passed the commission on a 2-1 vote.

Breaking Down The New Proposed Fracking Rules Released In Illinois And California

The states of California and Illinois both released proposed rules for fracking on Friday, which received general criticism from environmental groups and measured acceptance from the oil and gas industry.

Governors Jerry Brown (D-CA) and Pat Quinn (D-IL) each signed legislation regulating hydraulic fracturing earlier this year. Along with the practice of horizontal drilling, fracking allows oil and gas companies to get at fossil fuels heretofore trapped in shale formations by injecting high-pressure water and chemicals miles deep into the ground and collecting what comes back up. As Wenonah Hauter of Food and Water Watch once described it, it is “like setting off a giant pipe bomb four or five miles underground,” burning the oil and gas that comes back up — and somehow disposing of the water, sand, and chemicals used to fracture the shale rock in the first place.

Why We Need a Fracking Moratorium on Public Lands

Last week we got one of our first glimpses into what U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell thinks about fracking – and it wasn’t promising. Her viewpoint on this topic is important because she is overseeing the development of new rules for the controversial oil and gas extraction process for public lands. Unfortunately, she essentially called it safe, saying: “I think that there’s a lot of misinformation about fracking. I think that it’s part of the industry’s job to make sure that the public understands what it is, how it’s done, and why it’s safe.”

Environmental groups create ‘Green Army’ to take on key La. issues

Saltwater intrusion in the aquifer that serves Baton Rouge, the sinkhole at Bayou Corne, Louisiana coastal erosion and concerns about additional drilling of more underground natural gas storage caverns at Lake Peigneur are issues that got environmental leaders from south Louisiana together in Baton Rouge on Friday to talk about common goals.

Affectionately calling itself the “Green Army,” this loose network of environmental groups being led by former Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré (U.S. Army Retired) will bring together the many groups working on local issues into collaboration on larger goals.

Louisiana 25-acre sinkhole brings mini-earthquakes, explosion fears

Scientists are now saying they will need to monitor for decades an enormous — and growing — Louisiana sinkhole that has already forced hundreds to evacuate, contaminated an aquifer and has been registering increased seismic activity, including mini-earthquakes.

Sinkhole the size of 20 football pitches opens up in Louisiana

A Louisiana sinkhole that has sucked in trees and swamps as it spread to the size of 20 football fields is now at risk of exploding.

Residents of Bayou Corne were evacuated a year ago when the sinkhole, which is emitting natural gases, opened up.

Coastal litigation could spark reform

Now that Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes’ lawsuits against oil-and-gas companies have joined other litigation sparked by coastal issues, industry leaders are eyeing reforms for the Legislature’s next session.

Those lawsuits target oil-and-gas companies that allegedly did not mitigate environmental damage as required in their operating permits.

Projects are a positive step

Local coastal projects in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes are benefitting from $14 million in fine money from BP and Transocean due to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf.

The money has gone to coastal states affected by the spill and is going toward vital restoration projects.

La. to get $68 million in barrier island, diversion projects

Louisiana will receive almost $68 million for diversion and barrier island restoration projects from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, the first of almost $1.2 billion expected over the next five years, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced Thursday.

The money comes from plea agreements in criminal cases against BP and Transocean following the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster that left 11 people dead and allowed 4.1 million barrels of oil to gush into the Gulf of Mexico.

Keystone’s hit to the environment

President Obama has made clear that his approval or rejection of the pipeline’s expansion will depend on its impact on climate change.

Up until now, Obama’s State Department has said the pipeline won’t be that bad. It’s true that the oil the pipeline is set to carry is dirtier than most crude refined in the United States. But the State Department believes that oil would still make it to market one way or another. And if it doesn’t, it would likely be replaced with oil from Venezuela, which can be just as dirty. That means that Keystone’s impact on the environment would be a wash.

Alberta oil sands, pipeline projects protested in rallies across Canada

An anti-oilsands rally in Vancouver seemed to upstage others across the country on Saturday as hundreds of people danced to First Nations drummers amid a party atmosphere with a serious undertone.

The umbrella group Defend Our Climate said demonstrations were held in about 130 communities to send a clear message against oilsands expansion and accompanying pipeline projects.

Canadians rally against oil

Andres Fontecilla, president of a Quebec sovereignty movement, said the Canadian government should listen to the oil concerns of indigenous peoples.

“[The principle of self-determination of indigenous peoples] means that the government must commit that any economic development project affecting lands of indigenous communities be accompanied by an agreement with the community on how to meet their aspirations,” Fontecilla said in a statement Saturday.

Alabama rail line reopens after crude-train derailment

An Alabama railway line has reopened 10 days ago after the fiery derailment of a train hauling North Dakota crude oil, operator Genesee & Wyoming Inc said.

The repaired line resumed service on Sunday, the company said in a posting on its website.

Offshore drilling safety chief delves into the data

The nation’s newest offshore drilling regulator thinks crunching numbers now could avoid crushing disasters later.

Brian Salerno, director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, wants the agency to step up the way it collects information from coastal oil and gas facilities and then put that data to use zeroing in on problems, managing risk and thwarting accidents.

Greenpeace Arctic 30’s 2 Canadians jailed in Russia

Last week, when Russian authorities moved the 30 Greenpeace activists they had arrested nearly two months earlier, Canadians Paul Ruzycki and Alexandre Paul ended up sharing a cell in the prisoner train car, along with another activist.

Despite the cramped conditions, Ruzycki wrote to his family that it was a special time, with “good energy.” Until then, the 30 activists had been kept separate.

Oil Free Seas Flotilla Occupying Anadarko Oil Drill Site

Six boats are currently occupying the sea above the site where oil giant Anadarko intends to start drilling in the coming days.

The drill site is over 100 nautical miles off the west coast of New Zealand, and in waters around a kilometer and a half deep.

The six boats are part of the Oil Free Seas Flotilla which was cheered off by hundreds of New Zealanders from various ports earlier this week.

Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant begins fuel rod removal

Workers at Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear plant have begun removing fuel rods from a storage pond at the Unit 4 reactor building.

The delicate operation is seen as a necessary step in stabilising the site.

It will take about two days to remove the first 22 fuel rod assemblies, plant operator Tepco says.

Tepco Successfully Removes First Nuclear Fuel Rods at Fukushima

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) successfully removed the first nuclear fuel rods today from a cooling pool at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant, an early milestone in decommissioning the facility amid doubts about whether the rods had been damaged and posed a radiation risk.

The first of the fuel-rod assemblies at the plant’s No. 4 reactor building was transferred from an underwater rack on the fifth floor to a portable cask just before 4 p.m., the utility known as Tepco said in an e-mailed statement.

Removing the fuel rods at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant: What’s at stake and what’s next?

Workers started the difficult task Monday of removing nuclear fuel rods from a heavily-damaged reactor building at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in Japan. It’s the first major step toward decommissioning the plant, a decades-long process fraught with uncertainty and challenges.

Frustrated voters dump incumbent mayor in Fukushima election

Fukushima Mayor Takanori Seto became the latest incumbent ousted from office in the prefecture, where residents and evacuees have expressed increased frustration over delays in rebuilding from the nuclear disaster.

Newcomer defeats incumbent in Fukushima mayoral election

An independent newcomer won the Fukushima mayoral election Sunday, defeating the incumbent in a sign of public discontent over the local government’s reconstruction efforts from the nuclear crisis at a Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

Kaoru Kobayashi, 54, a former head of the Tohoku regional office of the Environment Ministry, defeated incumbent Takanori Seto, 66, and Yutaka Yamada, a 58-year-old backed by the Japanese Communist Party, by a large margin.

Michio Aoyama: Fukushima radiation circulating but diluting in Pacific

Radioactive substances from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant will dilute to negligible levels in the ocean, but the area close to the site remains a problem, the chief researcher at the Meteorological Research Institute said.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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